The perils of cheap knives and swords

As part of writing the next Western novel in my Ames Archives series, I’m devoting a lot of attention to knives and their use in the Old West.  There were plenty of cheap ones, but also a surprising number of higher-quality, custom-made fighting blades.  I won’t spoil the book by revealing too much, but it will cover the subject in some depth.

As part of it, I’ve been talking with Sven, the knifemaker who made a custom Damascus steel knife for Miss D. a couple of years ago.  He’s going to help me make a very authentic replica of a pretty serious military knife from the middle of the 19th century, and possibly be involved in other ways as well.  We both agreed, during a telephone discussion last night, that many of the replicas out there are absolutely horrible, using cheap steel that’s so brittle it’s often dangerous to the person holding it, and that can’t take or hold an edge.

To illustrate that, here’s what happened when TV channel Shop At Home demonstrated a cheap-and-nasty set of samurai swords a few years ago.

Ouch! That’s why you don’t buy cheap crap with an edge to it!

What Sven makes (and will make as a tie-in to the next Ames novel) is far from cheap, and anything but crappy.  That’s why I like working with him.



  1. Midshipmen were issued loaner swords for parades and they sometimes would clash them together as if in a sword fight only to find that they broke at the hilt. Very cheap issue swords. I certainly hope that issue swords in the days of wooden ships were of stronger steel.

    1. Japanese (issued) swords of the 1930-1945 years were also often crap. There were complaints from Nanjing that one couldn't sever one head without the sword bending irreparably. Those officers with the resources bought their own, or had inherited good ones.

  2. My father was in Japan during the post-war Occupation, and watched as thousands of crappy officers' swords were collected as scrap metal. He said a few sharp-eyed American officers hung around, occasionally snatching out a non-crappy sword as "souvenirs."

  3. You could carry a family blade, but it had to be dressed as an issue sword. In other words, it had to have an issue, or appear to be an issue scabard, along with an issue tsuba, and also have the military handle/wrap.

    Had a friend years ago who wanted a Samurai sword. After studying books on the subject, he began looking at "bring-backs". Found an officers sword that had a blade that looked older than it should under the hilt. Bought it, took it to a Japanese sword expert that authenticated it as 400 years old. Unfortunately, no family name was found on it, which put it in the 4 digit arena, instead of 6-7 digits.

    Beautiful blade after being properly polished. BTW, you can destroy one of those by using steel wool or other amateur techniques to clean them up. Not exaggerating.

  4. When I was playing with muzzle loading and reading mountain man stuff, I found out a curious phrase: "I stuck him to Green River." The old Green River knives had their name up near the handle on the blade… That meant he stabbed whoever to the hilt. I haven't thought of that for over 30 years…. I've got a reproduction around here somewhere… Looks like a butcher knife. I can't even imagine……

  5. My Mora is sulking now, lol. And it's my "good" knife! My only fixed-blade knife, too. *embarrassed expression*

  6. @Bibliotheca Servare: A Mora is a "low-cost" knife, but it's not cheap crap. I own several of them, and used a lot of them in Africa. It's very well made indeed, and out of the box is one of the sharpest knives I've ever used. They're excellent tools, and I plan to go on buying them. Yes, at that price point, they're disposable if they break: but they'll serve you well until then, and if you treat them right, they won't break at all.

  7. I bought a samurai sword at an auction many years ago. It had been mistreated (scabbard split, nicks in the blade – obviously kids had hit the dirt with it or something like that), and I knew of a samurai sword polisher in Colorado Springs at the time, so I took it to him.

    He told me it wasn't worth me paying him to work on it, because it was a cheap blade from about 1943 that had only been folded six times. He did translate the kanji on the tang, and I've got that paper somewhere.

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